Published July 25, 2011
There's a lot to love about summertime. The hot weather affords us privileges that the other seasons don't; the freedom to wear sleeveless shirts, spend all day outdoors, swim, and walk barefoot. In this revelry, however, many forget that with the good always comes some bad. And summer's potential effect on one's health is no exception.
Along with fresh air and the incentive to exercise, summertime brings certain dangers that can really ruin the season for you. With the most basic precautions you can avoid spending your hot days in a doctor's clinic. Here are 11 summertime health evils and some tips on sidestepping them.
1. Dehydration and overhydration
What evaporates faster: a bowl of water in the shade or one under a hot plate? Obvious? Well, your body follows the same logic, but many folks forget to replace all the fluid they lose through urine and summer sweat. Drinking lots of water before, during and after exercise is especially essential. If your mouth is dry, you're feeling sluggish, you have a headache, or your urine's dark yellow, gulp down some fluids.
But don't get overzealous. A rare case of overhydration isn't what you want either, unless shortness of breath and swollen legs and organs is your idea of a good time.
Prevent it by: Drinking two cups of water in the morning and half a cup every half hour. Increase this amount on hotter days. When exercising, drink eight ounces before and every 30 minutes during activity. Freezer pops and sports drinks are great for staving off thirst for longer periods.
Lobster-colored chumps are a mainstay of summer vacation. No matter how convincing the warnings out there, there are still guys who think their pasty, pallid skin has all the resistant power of the Hulk. They only learn their lesson when they can't get to sleep from the burning and itching, are forced to wear a T-shirt the next day, and end up spending the rest of their vacation avoiding the sun. If this isn't discouragement enough, how about skin cancer?
Prevent it by: Wearing sunscreen of at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15, increasing the factor the whiter your skin is. Apply 30 minutes before going outside for your skin to fully absorb it. Even if your sunscreen says it's waterproof, it probably isn't, so reapply often after swimming and sweating. Wear a hat, too.
3. Skin problems
People with very dry or sensitive skin are at higher risk for developing serious skin conditions. Eczema doesn't sound charming to begin with, and neither does its scientific name, atopic dermatitis . Many people develop this incurable condition during childhood, but the heat is one element that works to aggravate it. Redness, itchiness and hardening of the skin ensue. Like rashness and dryness, your best bet is to control outbursts.
Prevent it by: First experimenting with moisturizers to see which one your skin likes best. Steroid creams and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory balms help prevent eczema flare-ups. Avoid gels and greasy moisturizers that clog pores. Bathing frequently also helps keep the skin moist.
Just like your computer, your car engine and your barbecue grill, your body functions in an optimal temperature range. If you fail to cool it down when it gets too hot, you can suffer from heat stress (fatigue), heat cramps in your arms and legs, or worse. Heat exhaustion, characterized by nausea and headaches, requires medical attention, especially if you want to avoid a full-blown heat stroke.
Prevent it by: Keeping yourself hydrated. Also, seek the shade or an air-conditioned room once in a while. Eat saltier foods to retain water, and treat yourself to some ice cream.
5. Insect bites
Vicious bites from bugs are poor substitutes for love bites from women, especially those from insects that chomp off small chunks of your flesh. Using insect repellent is obvious, but you should also look where you're sitting. Leave the folks at Fear Factor to get their asses covered in fire ants.
The West Nile virus is especially serious. While rare, getting stung by a mosquito that carries it can result in serious brain inflammation.
Prevent it by: Using an insect repellent containing DEET. If stung, apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to stop the itching. Avoid going outside during peak mosquito hours.
6. Eye damage
The only cataracts you want this summer are the ones you can raft on. The sun's UV rays can damage your delicate eye. Long-term exposure can result in photokeratitis, sunburn of the cornea, which can lead to vision loss.
Prevent it by: Not skimping on sunglasses. Get shades that offer 100 percent protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. Polarized glasses help reduce glare, giving you a visibility bonus.
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7. Germs and infections from public places
I don't mean to scare you, but public places are cesspools of bacteria. Most are harmless (otherwise people would be dropping dead all over swimming pools and beaches). But if safety is a priority for you, avoid mucous membrane contact with surfaces. That means no licking the diving board or sticking seaweed up your nose. Really, it's not funny when you do it.
Prevent it by: Wearing good shoes when hiking and water shoes at the pool and beach. This will help prevent cuts that can get infected.
8. Hay fever
If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, as hay fever is less commonly known, it sucks to be you.
Doctors recommend you stay indoors, keep the windows rolled up in your car and keep pets out of the house. To enjoy summer without the itchy, runny or stuffy noses and itchy eyes associated with pollen-induced hay fever, follow this advice.
Prevent it by: Stock up on antihistamines or other good allergy medications. Nasal sprays decongest noses and block histamine action, eye drops stop the itching, and tissues keep snot off your shirt.
9. Respiratory problems
Our air is getting filthier with pollution every day, and more people are developing asthma in industrialized countries every day. Coincidence? The hot air and stronger sunrays of summertime can incite chemical reactions in ground-level pollution and turn them into nasty things like ozone. Pollutants increase symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and may lead to emphysema. This is markedly more dangerous in cities trapped in valleys and surrounded by mountains, which keep the dirty air from leaving.
Prevent it by: Nothing. The best solution is to avoid going outdoors when it's really nasty. Or, better yet, leave town and spend some time in crisp-clean nature.
10. Poison ivy
The resin from this plant can cause a severe allergic rash in some people. Though the resin is easily washed off with soap and water, it may already be too late by the time you do. A contaminated finger can spread the rash — which can last weeks — to the rest of the body.
Prevent it by: Wearing long pants and sleeves if you're working in a wooded area or hiking through the forest. Wash your clothes and hands carefully afterward. If you get a rash, antihistamine creams can relieve the itching, but strong steroid creams will quell the rash better.
11. Swimmer's ear
That's what happens when water gets in there but won't leave. Caused by a germ called Pseudomonas aeruginosa , this annoying, semi-deaf, plugged-up feeling can lead to an earache in days if the water stays there. It will later infect the ear, causing inflammation and itchiness.
Prevent it by: If you have water in your ear, tilt your head filled-ear-side up and hop on one foot. Now tilt your head the other way. The water should seep out.
If this doesn't work and you develop an earache, mix equal parts water, vinegar and alcohol. Put two to three drops in each affected ear every day. Last resort: See a doctor. Or avoid the whole fiasco altogether by wearing earplugs when you swim.
Don't spoil summer
A carefree summer only lasts a few weeks for most people, as work inevitably resumes. Make the most of it by keeping yourself safe and healthy.